Piette recalls 2012 Canada debut, says today’s team is vastly different

Canada's Samuel Piette kicks the ball during a practice in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/CP)

TORONTO — Samuel Piette was just 17 when he made his senior debut for Canada against the U.S.

Times have changed for both Piette and the Canadian men in the seven years since as the two sides prepare to face off Tuesday at BMO Field in CONCACAF Nations League play.

"It’s a totally different scenario right now," said Piette, who became the third-youngest male to play for Canada’s national team when he took the field at the same Toronto venue in June 2012.

"I would love to see who’s still with the team today compared to the team that we had in 2012?"

The answer is the 24-year-old Piette — the lone bridge between the Canadian squads for the U.S. games. Midfielder Will Johnson, who started the 2012 game, was called up for this camp but withdrew due to family reasons.

Piette came on in the 86th minute of the 0-0 draw in 2012, replacing Julian de Guzman — a player he had long looked up to. Today Piette, a gritty defensive midfielder, is an important cog for both the Montreal Impact (70 starts in the last three season) and Canada (44 caps).

"I know the players we have now, the group is a lot younger than before," Piette continued. "We have players playing at a high level with their club. Before it wasn’t always that case."

After blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 loss to Haiti this summer, the Canadian players are eager to show they are better than they showed in that Gold Cup exit.

"We’re ready to make good things happen," Piette told a media conference call Thursday.

Canada’s starting 11 for the 2012 game featured Lars Hirschfeld in goal and a back four of David Edgar, Kevin McKenna, Andre Hainault and Ante Jazic behind de Guzman, Johnson, Nik Ledgerwood, Tosaint Ricketts, Dwayne De Rosario and Olivier Occean.

Today, Canada looks to the likes of Alphonso Davies, Jonathan David, Lucas Cavallini and Junior Hoilett to lead the attack with Piette, Mark Anthony-Kaye, Scott Arfield and Jonathan Osorio running the midfield.

Milan Borjan is the undisputed No. 1 in goal with Doneil Henry (suspended for the U.S. game) and Derek Cornelius pairing at centre back. Richie Laryea is making a case to start at fullback with Kamal Miller and Samuel Adekugbe among those contesting the other fullback role.

Of the U.S. starting 11 that day in 2012, only Michael Bradley remains on the American roster for the CONCACAF Nations League clash. Forward Jozy Altidore, like Bradley now a Toronto FC mainstay, came on as a substitute in 2012 but will miss this game due to a quad injury.

The 2012 friendly was organized to celebrate the Canadian Soccer Association’s Centennial.

"To be on that pitch with big players from Canada and even the U.S., I remember feeling like I was in a commercial … and it wasn’t real," said Piette.

Canada and the U.S. have met twice since the 2012 game. The two played to another scoreless draw in January 2013 in Houston. And the U.S. won 1-0 in February 2016 at Carson, Calif.

The Americans lead the overall series 11-8-14 and have not lost to Canada since March 1985. The Canadians are 0-9-8 since then and have been outscored 17-1 in the last 11 matches.

Canada currently stands 75th in the world rankings, compared to No. 21 for the U.S.

The Americans open their CONCACAF Nations League Group A play against No. 178 Cuba on Friday. Canada is coming of wins of 6-0 and 1-0 over the Cubans.

Canada and the U.S. will meet again Nov. 15 in Orlando, Fla.

Tuesday’s game is crucial for the Canadians, who need ranking points to overtake El Salvador and move into the top six in CONCACAF. The top six in the region come the rankings after the June international window will take part in the Hex round of World Cup qualifying, the most direct route in the region to the 2022 tournament in Qatar.

Canada currently trails El Salvador by five ranking points (1,322 to 1,327). A win over the Americans will be worth 17 or 18 points for Canada, depending on the U.S.-Cuba result.

El Salvador faces Montserrat and Saint Lucia next.

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